“You’ll have a good fight—but fight as you never fought before; as you never hope to fight again. Cottonton will watch you, kid. Don’t shame them; don’t shame me. Show ’em what you’re made of. Show Red that a former stable-boy, no matter what class he is now, can’t have the licking of a former master. Show ’em a has-been can come back. Show ’em what Garrison stands for. Show ’em your finish, kid—I’ll ask no more. And you’ll carry Jimmie Drake’s heart—Oh, fuss! I can’t tell a yarn, nohow.”
In silence Garrison gripped Drake’s hand. And if ever a mighty resolution was welded in a human heart—a resolution born of love, everything; one that nothing could deny—it was born that moment in Garrison’s. Born as the tears stood in his eyes, and, man as he was, he could not keep up; nor did he shame his manhood by denying them. “Kid, kid,” said Drake.
It was April 16. Month of budding life; month of hope; month of spring when all the world is young again; when the heart thaws out after its long winter frigidity. It was the day of the opening of the Eastern racing season; the day of the Carter Handicap.
Though not one of the “classics,” the Carter annually draws an attendance of over ten thousand; ten thousand enthusiasts who have not had a chance to see the ponies run since the last autumn race; those who had been unable to follow them on the Southern circuit. Women of every walk of life; all sorts and conditions of men. Enthusiasts glad to be out in the life-giving sunshine of April; panting for excitement; full to the mouth with volatile joy; throwing off the shackles of the business treadmill; discarding care with the ubiquitous umbrella and winter flannels; taking fortune boldly by the hand; returning to first principles; living for the moment; for the trial of skill, endurance, and strength; staking enough in the balances to bring a fillip to the heart and the blood to the cheek.
It was a typical American crowd; long-suffering, giving and taking—principally giving—good-humored, just. All morning it came in a seemingly endless chain; uncoupling link by link, only to weld together again. All morning long, ferries, trolleys, trains were jammed with the race-mad throng. Coming by devious ways, for divers reasons; coming from all quarters by every medium; centering at last at the Queen’s County Jockey Club.
And never before in the history of the Aqueduct track had so thoroughly a representative body of racegoers assembled at an opening day. Never before had Long Island lent sitting and standing room to so impressive a gathering of talent, money, and family. Every one interested in the various phases of the turf was there, but even they only formed a small portion of the attendance.
Rumors floated from paddock to stand and back again. The air was surcharged with these wireless messages, bearing no signature nor guarantee of authenticity. And borne on the crest of all these rumors was one—great, paramount. Garrison, the former great Garrison, had come back. He was to ride; ride the winner of the last Carter, the winner of a fluke race.